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From energy poverty to clean air in Poland

20151114 Sosdlakrakowa Wiech 053
Krakow, Sos dla Krakowa – akcja Krakowskiego Alarmu Smogowego,
Fot. Tomasz Wiech

Together with its partners, the ECF has played a crucial role in energising the fight for air quality in Poland. Insights from a broad study on energy poverty helped fire up public debate and inspire policy action toward cleaner energy sources. At the same time, the ECF helped stimulate grassroots efforts against air pollution.

Starting in 2012, the ECF commissioned one of the first energy poverty studies in Poland, carried out by the Institute for Sustainable Development (InE) first and the Institute for Structural Research (IBS) later. Energy poverty is a complex problem caused by a combination of low income, high energy costs, and low energy efficiency in homes. Mapping the multidimensional relationship of poverty to energy use was essential to supporting an energy transition. The study aimed to fill the substantial gap in scientific knowledge necessary to create targeted policies.

As the study unfolded, the link to air pollution became overwhelming, and the ECF started working with various partners on the ground to improve air quality. Starting in Krakow, the Polish grassroots movement used local smog alerts to stimulate public debate on smog in cities across Poland. The conversation soon reached the top of the media and political agendas, galvanizing the push to phase out fossil fuels. The campaign helped build a broad network of NGOs, local authorities and business engaged with energy poverty and air quality. The ECF partners and data also played a key role in the creation of the Polish government’s large-scale “Clean Air” and “Stop Smog” programmes to fight air pollution.

The results of the energy poverty study showed that energy poverty affects around 12.2% of Poland’s population, or 4.6 million people (1.3 million households). This rate has slightly decreased in the last 5 years (by 2.2%). Although improvement in the situation of households was to a large extent the result of an increase in income, income and energy poverty are not equivalent: almost 6% of Poland’s population (2.1 million) were energy poor, but not income poor. The vast majority (two thirds) of the energy poor resided in rural areas. The IBS study opened a new chapter of research in Poland continued now by different scientific and social entities.

Policymakers, central and regional administration and stakeholders have recognised energy poverty as a challenge for public policy. The responsible ministries acknowledged that a public policy aimed at improving air quality in Poland must tackle the issue of energy poverty.
Piotr Lewandowski, IBS Board President